While subjected to the horrors of World War II Germany, young Liesel finds solace by stealing books and sharing them with others. Under the stairs in her home, a Jewish refugee is being sheltered by her adoptive parents.
Year 2, Film #39
THE REVIEW: Going into this film I had heard many great things about the book which it is based off of, also titled The Book Thief. But I didn’t actually know anything about the story, just that it was phenomenal. And from what I saw in the film, I would have to say that I agree. At its heart is a story about a young girl and the relationships she forms but with the added element of it taking place during World War II. There were a few choices that were made which detracted a bit from the impact of the film, but overall the characters and their interactions shined above the rest.
Liesel (Sophie Nélisse) is the young girl who has just lost her brother and is being given away to foster parents Hans (Geoffrey Rush) and Rosa (Emily Watson). She is a very shy, yet inquisitive girl, who is really thrown into the midst of the goings-on of a small German town. Rosa is the strict mother who treats Liesel poorly and scolds her for even the tiniest misbehavior whereas Hans is quite the opposite. He encourages her, teaches her how to read and is very playful, even performing a little magic trick to get her attention. Then there’s Rudy (Nico Liersch) who is the outgoing young boy in town that tries to make Liesel’s arrival go as smooth as possible. And finally there is Max (Ben Schnetzer) who is a Jew that takes refuge inside Hans and Rosa’s home. During his stay, he becomes good friends with Liesel as they also share a passion for books and words.
These relationships were the most enjoyable part about the movie for me. It was just a pleasure to see how these characters interacted with one another. Around these characters, a lot is going on: Germany, at the height of World War II — this is very serious. While The Book Thief is nowhere near as dark or revealing as Schindler’s List is, there are still some parallels to be made. The Book Thief has a lot of the emotion that is evoked in Schindler’s List especially during scenes like Kristallnacht, searches of basements to look for hiding Jews, or the line of Jews with the Star of David sewn onto their clothes, walking to somewhere besides their homes. This subject matter is handled very well and was very powerful watching these scenes, which we’ve seen many times before on film, unfold. But what made this film unique, and therefore fun to watch, was the role these characters played. Seeing these events unfold through their eyes and through their interactions was something I’d never seen before. To have that child’s innocence in the midst of warfare and destruction, and to see the effect it all has on Liesel, had me completely engaged and waiting to see what would happen next. This authenticity of the characters, this believability in everything that happens draws you into the story.
Two things though took me out of the film: the narration and the ending. As far as the narration goes, I’d chalk this one up as more of unsure how I feel rather than in the dislike column. As I have since been told, the narration is a major part of the book because it’s told from the perspective of death. In the film, I was intrigued by this concept in the beginning as Death (Roger Allam) sets the scene for what’s about to happen. But as the film progresses, he isn’t present very much which made me question why include Death in the first place. If you’re going to have a narrator frame the story, have him play a vital role that appears throughout, not just at the beginning and end and maybe once or twice in the middle. Of course just as was deciding that they should have included Death more in the film, his spoke his closing lines which made me really glad he was part of the film.
Continuing with the ending, while I thought the movie reached a good conclusion, the execution of the final moments could have been better. As it is now, the ending is very abrupt and seems thrown together with bits and pieces. Instead of having an extended scene which focuses on the reactions of the characters as to what happens, there’s probably about five or six quick scenes that just cover small parts of what happens. And while the content may be satisfying for the most part, the hectic and jumpy way in which it is presented leaves much to be desired.
All in all, The Book Thief was a wonderful film to watch and really delivered on characters and interactions. What’s unique about The Book Thief and what makes it so special is the atmosphere these characters create: it has the same gravitas as a film like Schindler’s List while still maintaining an innocent and lighthearted quality that doesn’t make it too overwhelming. Parts of the film could have been executed better to make it even more entertaining, but even so, it’s a film that’s good for a variety of moviegoers and one I’d recommend seeing. While the acting was phenomenal, it may be just shy of some Oscar nominations depending on the rest of the competition. For the technical awards though (like Production Design, Cinematography, Costumes, etc.) I think there is a much better chance.
The Book Thief opens in theaters this Friday, November 15, 2013.
THE RATING: 4 out of 5